Youngstown State came into their last regular season game knowing that they had to win against a good Indiana State team to have any chance at all to make the postseason. Taking care of their business to the tune of 27-6, all YSU could do was hope for some help to make the playoffs.
The billing for this game was the matchup of running backs as Jamaine Cook and Shakir Bell, the two anchors of their teams respective offenses. However, field goal kicking took center stage, and nobody would have predicted a David Brown and Tanner Fritschle matchup to determine the outcome of two potent offensive units.
Bell, reportedly, did not start the game for disciplinary reasons. Toward the end of the first quarter, the Sycamores junior tailback emerged from the bench. In the end though, the YSU offense proved to be the best defense against Bell. By building a big lead, the Sycamores were forced to pas more than they normally would like, meaning no Bell to worry about.
Brown booted a 20 yard field goal in the first quarter and a 47-yarder before the half. Fritschle kicked a 30-yard field goal. With the two field goals, Brown put the Penguins ahead, 6-3, at the half.
Fritschle would boot a 32-yard field goal that made it a 6-6 game. Once the Penguins punted on their ensuing possession, the Sycamores drove deep into Penguin territory, but came away with zero points as Donald D’Alesio picked off a pass attempt at the YSU three yard line.
The Penguins would take that possession and turned it into a 97-yard drive that culminated in Kurt Hess throwing a beautiful fade pattern to Andrew Williams with 3:20 remaining in the third period.
With that touchdown pass, Hess’s 52nd, the junior quarterback surpassed Tom Zetts as the Penguins all-time touchdown tosser. In the present, it gave the Penguins a 13-6 lead.
The Penguins controlled all three phases of the game. The special teams were the best they have been all season, and the defense has improved steadily to look as good as they had all year.
“Our conference deserves to have four teams in the playoffs. It is like the SEC at this level. We beat a BCS team [Pitt] and I have always been told that those count as two”, said YSU Coach Eric Wolford.
Coach Wolford was as pleased as he had been with any of the other six Penguin victories.
“I feel confident with our strength of schedule, it will be enough for the committee to take a look at us. Anytime you can hold Bell under 100 yards, it’s a good day for your defense”, commented Wolford.
On their next possession, which started in the the third quarter and went into the 14:18 mark of the fourth, the Penguins scored again to make it 20-6. Cook capped off the short, six-play drive with a 32-yard burst off the left edge.
Once the Penguins went back on defense, they had Indiana State in an obvious passing mode and did a great job preventing anything big from happening. Dom Rich came off the right edge for a big sack on a first down blitz and Mike Perish had two more incompletions before the Sycamores would be forced to punt the ball away again.
“It was my guaranteed last game”, said Cook. “We wanted to go out with a bang. I will be praying tonight. Anytime you have a winning record, it is a successful season, but we have a standard here to make the playoffs, so it will be bittersweet.”
The Penguins scored on their third consecutive possession when Hess again went deep, finding Williams for the second time. The pitch and catch covered 43 yards and built the lead to 27-6.
“If we do make the playoffs, I don’t think we will lose again, we are absolutely playing our best right now”, said Rich.
Julius Childs accented the defensive effort with an interception, the second of the game for YSU. Going into this game, the Penguins only had two interceptions for the whole season.
Cook had a good game to close out his career as a Penguin. The senior tailback rambled for 124 yards on 30 carries. Cook entered the game with 3, 938 yards. This effort put him over the 4,000 yard mark, and he also eclipsed Adrian Brown for second on YSU’s all-time rushing list.
Besides breaking the record for passing touchdowns, Hess settled down, especially in the second half. Hess engineered several first downs and kept the Penguins way ahead in the vaunted time of possession category, which they won, 36:36-23:24. Hess was 20-28 for 248 yards and two touchdowns.
Bell didn’t have the Saturday he had last season against a Penguin defense that has been improving steadily all season. The junior had 18 carries for 54 yards.
Aronde Stanton talked about the YSU defensive success against Bell.
“It shows how much we improved, it is a credit to the coaches. There was a lot at stake today, and we came out and laid it all on the line. It bothers me because we left a few games out there, hopefully the good Lord will take care of us.”